Saturday 6th April – Outdoor Learning Course at Lincolnshire Montessori   5 comments

I had been looking forward to today for weeks, as I really wanted to find out more about Montessori settings and get some ideas for the outdoor environment at my own setting (which readers of my blog will know is currently undergoing a ‘makeover’)

I found the details of this course by chance when browsing the Nursery World site – and had posted the details on Facebook – as people often comment that they wished they had known about training / conferences that I attend. As a result some other childminders were interested and booked their places as well. Rachael who lives fairly near me, Kate that I had bumped into at a NCMA coinference and chatted to on social media (and her friend Becca who I knew nothing about – in fact Becca was taking the place of Kate’s other half who couldn’t come in the end), Helen who I had only recently started chatting to on social media – although we have a lot of the same friends on Facebook (and her friend Anne).

We decided that we would make a weekend of it and Helen kindly sorted out a suitable hotel and somewhere for our evening meal – not to far from from the course venue.

As it turns out  – since booking on the course I have chatted with Nathan Archer via email quite a lot as Nathan (along with Laura Henry) is supporting the petition I started against increased ratios in early years settings. So I was also looking forward to meeting Nathan in person as well.

So the big day finally arrived this morning and at 5:45 am – as promised – Rachael is at my door ready for the journey north. There was hardly any traffic, the sun was visible some of the time – and despite not following the directions that Rachael had printed (my fault), stopping for a loo break , stopping at a Tesco (hoping for a coffee – but cafe shut) we arrived very early – as in at 9 am – a whole hour before the course started!!

However Nathan was already there and he welcomed us warmly and showed us into the meeting room.

First impressions – SPACE – LIGHT – CALMNESS .

The views were fantastic and would love to see when spring finally arrives and in the summer and autumn to observe the ever changing picture of nature.

Over the next half hour the other childminders that had booked places arrived and it was like a reunion – even though most of us had not met before – it is amazing how the internet brings people together and you feel like old friends even if have never met.

The trainer Michelle arrived and Nathan helped her set up and other delegates arrived (mainly from Montessori settings). Once we all had coffee / tea / biscuits, Michelle started the course.

I liked her straight away as her first sentences were about us – the delegates and what the course would be  about – no promises of solutions – just a ‘hope to gives you ideas’ and ‘please do challenge me if you disagree with anything I say’

I liked the fact that we did not have to wear names labels or do introductions, and could discuss and answer as a table based group. Michelle told us a bit about her background (so jealous of her 4 settings- one being on a farm with loads of outdoor space), and asked us what we hoped to get out of the day.

There was a powerpoint presentation (shown over the course of the day) with lots of lovely photographs and some of the Montessori based principles and ideas – although Michelle did say she had also used ‘everyday’ early years language as she knew that a group of childminders without Montessori training / settings were attending.

Throughout the day Michelle gave lots and lots of ideas and explained about the photographs (the story behind them) and because some photo’s showed the same thing at different times of the year and at different stages of development – it was easy to follow the children’s and the settings featured on their journey.

I am not going to relay word for word the content of the course – because –  a) I did not take any notes and b) that would not be fair to Michelle – but let’s just say I would recommend this course to anyone.

However I am going to say a little bit about the things I enjoyed and feel are worth noting  – but please remember this is a personal recall not based on notes but just my own personal thoughts. I may have missed bits / forgotten to include bits which at the time I thought were interesting / important. I may have misheard or misunderstood some of the things I heard and saw and I certainly will have applied my own previous knowledge and understanding and considered things from my own perspective which will unique to me.

So here is my recall of the day  – it would be lovely to have some feedback (comments) from others on the course, and for others who work in Montessori settings to comment – as this will aid not only my understanding but that of those who read my blog.

  • Going outside to use things in the environment to make ‘a picture’  – as a group – so not too daunting. Items available included a few tyres, planks of woods, bits of brick, odds and ends – and a lot of imagination – then looking at the other groups pictures. Rachael and I had actually done something similar on a Principles of Forest School half day workshop – and I have done it with the children (and Carol) at the arboretum – but what was different this time was it was Spring – and a late Spring at that – so not much new growth /  ‘natural ‘stuff’ around. Even so so very imaginative pictures were created.
  • Having time to talk in our groups and Michelle joining in – and having our position and restrictions as childminders acknowledged and taken into consideration.
  • Hearing the views and ideas from the other delegates – interesting how similar barriers and challenges exist in all types of setting.
  • LUNCH – fantastic – and plenty of it
  • The handout and promise of ‘loads of stuff’ to be emailed to us all – Michelle certainly shares my ethos of sharing good practice and supporting each other.

The final part of  the day where we had to think about our own action plan and the challenges that we would face. As a group of childminders we had started the course saying we wanted inspiration and that we wanted to get rid of some of the plastic – at the end of the course we had lots of ideas and were inspired – so our action plan was to go back to our settings and do something about it!

Our challenge was mainly the number of people we had to keep ‘happy’ – the children of course, but also the parents of the children, our own partners and own children, Ofsted, our development officer- and of course our own principles and ethos.

We realised that compromise would be needed and that we needed to think outside the box – and maybe not have an aspiration to try to offer everything in our gardens but to offer certain elements and then to use our local community – so the parks, forests, nature reserves and arboretums to provide some of the type of environments that would be difficult or even impossible to provide in our gardens.

Also we needed to be realistic about storage and do things on a small scale, and we learnt about the need to sometimes explain to parents and children – why doing something or using particular  resources- especially the ones that parents might consider dangerous or that children may use in an unsafe way.

In additional – there were things that I picked up – little tips or ideas – so here are a few;

Using natural materials to mark out an area to be used for a specific resource

Using roofing slate as a mark making board (with chalk)

Where possible think big – so the biggest possible sand area or digging area, large pieces of material / planks of wood, pallets, whole real bricks, tree branches or trunks, crates, and so on  – and to think where can get for free or recycle

But still have the odd bits, even broken bits –  don’t also throw things away as children will still be creative with them

Having shelves outside for storage baskets and room nearby for the bigger items

If possible have a covered area – and / or things that the children can use to make their dens and spaces waterproof (ish)

Ikea for little metal buckets to store collections in,

Pallets to build permanment structures that little ones can then use as they wish to create their own spaces

To record the verbal stories that children tell

For each child to have their own memory stick that child, parent and setting use – for photos and sound recordings

To limit water play as per the seasons – so less in the summer – to use water butts and when empty no more left to use . Or simply to provide a certain amount of water in a container and once gone – explain no more that day.

There were lots more ideas – so if you get chance – do book on this course.

However there was more – much more

At the end of the course, Nathan offered to show myself, Rachael, Anne, Helen and Michelle around the setting – of course we accepted his offer. We saw all the different rooms from the baby room to the year 6 classroom( children can attend Lincolnshire Montessori from a few weeks old to 11 years of age). Each room was light and airy with lots of room to move or to work on the floor. Photographs of children doing things (the process) and creative work in different media were everywhere in the corridors – making  use of the wide spaces and natural light.

We saw the traditional Montessori resources and were able to ask both Nathan and Michelle questions – such as;

Why is the block tower pink? Answer for traditional reasons – but you can get them in different colours now, including natural wood colours – the important thing being that all the blocks are the same colour.

Do the children ever ‘muddle different resources  up?   Answer yes! Some resources naturally work well together – other times it because of a child’s interest or imaginiative play

Are the materials chosen for a reason?  Answer – yes there is a reason – usually that the are ‘real life things’ or designed to support a particular concept or skill. Each type of activity has a name and all those activities are grouped together on the shelves and in order of progresion

Do the children tidy up themselves and put things back in the right places? Answer Yes they  are supported as babies but as their physical abilities develop the children like order and take pride in their environment.

Do the children have to do each activity and in order?  Answer In some Montessori settings – yes but as with all things there are slight variations – those who follow the principle ‘to the letter’ and those who have adapted slightly due to our increased knowledge about child development Since Marie Montessori wrote about her ideas. Therefore we do let the children explore things out of the suggested order – BUT – we observe and if we think a child is not quite ready for that particular activity we may model the use of it or re direct to an early stage of the same activity.

We noticed the same things in lots of classrooms – but with slight differences  – it was easy to see how the children would progress and become really secure in their knowledge – and at many levels

Wellies were in every corridor – hundreds of them – children’s and some adults. Outgrown wellies had been used to plant flowers in

Outdoor spaces were easily accessible from all classrooms – and there were lots of different outdoor spaces – from ‘garden’ sized ones right up to an entire field.

Both outdoor and indoor spaces were not uniform in any way – there were steps / stairs and different flooring and different shaped rooms /spaces indoors. Mounds, dips, rough ground, grass, mud, paved areas outside – and much more.

We were told that traditionally children in Montessori settings  were grouped in 3 year age groups so 0-3, 3 -6, 6-9 and 9 – 12, BUT in this country due to ratio rules, funded hour conditions, age of starting secondary school makes this a little difficult and so the age groups are now slightly different.

We asked many more questions and were given much more information – really this blog is just an insight into Montessori practice.

How do I feel now at Montessori practice?

Well –  I am very interested in finding out more – there was a lot that I not only liked, but was similar to my own practice and fitted in with my own principles and ethos. I certainly want to find out more – I would like the opportunity to visit a Montessori setting when the children were there – so see for myself how it all fits together in practice.

And I want to read more – I already have one book that Nathan had told me about call ‘Maria Montessori – ‘A Critical Introduction to Key Themes and Debates’ by Marion o’Donnell – but which I had yet to read. I had actually packed it in my bag for this visit and started reading it last night – much more to learn, much to think about.

At this stage I think that I will be be including more Montessori based practice into my setting as a first stage and will be be continuing on my own journey of exploration and discovery about Montessori.


Some readers may find these guides on using the Montessori equipment interesting / useful

Link to guide on using Montessori mathematics equipment

Posted April 7, 2013 by psw260259 in Conferences that I have attended

5 responses to “Saturday 6th April – Outdoor Learning Course at Lincolnshire Montessori

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  1. I really enjoyed the day too Penny and like you say some off the ideas and resources reflected what we already do and provide for the children in our settings. The things we can’t always provide such as a huge fallen tree to climb and explore we can find in local country parks etc. when we take the children out and about.
    There was still a lot to think about and new ideas to develop though. Michelle was an excellent training. She also said that she had been a childminder so she understood some of the barriers we face but also the many benefits such as the flexibility to adapt ideas to suit our settings and working with small groups of children.
    I loved the emphasis on movement and not limiting even very small children’s freedom to explore , climb and set their own limits on what they can do. Under the watchful eye of adults who know when or when not to intervene. She reminded us that brain and body development are completely intertwined and that moving and playing where possible outdoors and having real life experiences with as many natural resources as possible have fuller meaning to the children and make lasting memories.
    It was a beautiful place to visit and it has certainly sparked my interest in finding out more about Montessori.

  2. Morning Penny. I’m so glad you enjoyed the day – meeting friends and colleagues, being inspired by the photographs, talking with the trainer and seeing the site. It was a real pleasure to welcome everyone. I thought it was great to know that there are cheap (or even better free!) alternatives to buying lots of kit. Like you, I now have lots of ideas buzzing around and an ever growing shopping list. Hope you enjoyed your evening meal and catch up. Best Wishes Nathan.

  3. It’s so inspirational to hear about different ideas and focus on childrens development using natural materials. Children’s problem solving and creativity are developed naturally in this way combining resources to build and create structures is also a great way to engage boys. Thanks for a great reminder of how exciting it is to work with children in this way it gives me an appetite to develop ideas further.



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